Background: Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended worldwide but not commonly practised. We undertook a randomised controlled study of the efficacy of home-based peer counselling to increase the proportion of exclusive breastfeeding among mothers and infants residing in periurban Mexico City.
Methods: Two intervention groups with different counselling frequencies, six visits (44) and three visits (52), were compared with a control group (34) that had no intervention. From March, 1995, to September, 1996, 170 pregnant women were identified by census and invited to participate in the study. Home visits were made during pregnancy and early post partum by peer counsellors recruited from the same community and trained by La Leche League. Data were collected by independent interview. Exclusive breastfeeding was defined by WHO criteria.
Findings: 130 women participated in the study. Only 12 women refused participation. Study groups did not differ in baseline factors. At 3 months post partum, exclusive breastfeeding was practised by 67% of six-visit, 50% of three-visit, and 12% of control mothers (intervention groups vs controls, p<0.001; six-visit vs three-visit, p=0.02). Duration of breastfeeding was significantly (p=0.02) longer in intervention groups than in controls, and fewer intervention than control infants had an episode of diarrhoea (12% vs 26%, p=0.03).
Interpretation: This is the first reported community-based randomised trial of breastfeeding promotion. Early and repeated contact with peer counsellors was associated with a significant increase in breastfeeding exclusivity and duration. The two-fold decrease in diarrhoea demonstrates the importance of breastfeeding promotion to infant health.